How to Protect Your Credit From Identity Theft
If you are concerned about protecting your financial information from identity theft and data breaches, it’s important to know your options. While credit monitoring and fraud alerts indicate suspicious activity and provide added security, they may not offer enough protection. Placing a freeze on your credit (also known as a security freeze) can add an extra layer of protection against criminal activity. Here’s what you need to know:
What is a credit freeze?
Applying for housing, opening a checking account, or applying for new credit cards typically require a credit pull by potential landlords, mortgage lenders and banks. A credit freeze allows you to restrict access to your credit report, making it difficult for criminals to open fake accounts in your name. Freezing your credit places restrictions on who can view your credit report so that no one will be able to see it except for existing creditors and debt collectors. Government agencies may still have access in response to a court or administrative order.
How do I request a credit freeze?
To place a freeze on your credit, contact each of the nationwide credit bureaus. Each one will charge approximately $5 – $10 to complete the request. Fees vary by state and victims of identity theft can freeze their credit at no charge. Be prepared to provide your complete name, address, social security number and date of birth to each credit bureau. When you enable the freeze, the bureau will provide you with a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to access your account.
TIP: Don’t lose your PIN! You can reset it, but the process can be very difficult.
1-800-685-1111 (NY residents please call 1-800-349-9960)
How do I remove a credit freeze?
When you want to rent an apartment, purchase a home, or apply for credit cards, you will need to unfreeze your credit. Contact the credit bureaus again and ask them to lift the freeze. Small fees for lifting the freeze (also known as a thaw) vary by state. You’ll need the PIN that the credit bureau gave you when you enabled the freeze. The credit bureaus are required to put the thaw into effect no later than three business days after you submit the request. So, plan ahead for this short delay. You can also choose to lift the freeze only for a specific amount of time, in order to limit your exposure.
TIP: If you opt for a temporary lift because you are applying for credit or a job, and you can find out which credit bureau the business will contact, you may be able to save some money by lifting the freeze only at that particular bureau.
In addition to the extra precaution of a credit freeze, it’s always good practice to monitor all bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions and report them immediately.